Monday, October 10, 2005

Lost and Found in Paris

The Plan was simple.
Mom and Lisa would fly from Johannesburg to Paris, arriving early in the morning.
Three hours later, Jacky would arrive from London.
Since both flights were landing at Terminal 2, Mom and Lisa would have plenty of time – around 3 hours – to make their way from Gate F to Gate B, where they would meet Jacky, whereupon they would all make their way to the RER (train) station.

My flight from Dublin was scheduled to land about 10 minutes after Jacky’s, but at Terminal 1, so I would take a shuttle bus and meet them at the RER station. We would then all get on the train that would take us into Paris.
If, for some reason, I hadn’t met up with them by 11:30am they were to get on a train anyway and I would make my own way into the city and meet them at the hotel.
Since I was the only one of the four of us who had been in Paris before, I had downloaded maps and emailed instructions to them for this contingency, but I didn’t foresee any problems.
As I said, the plan was simple.

But life rarely goes according to plan and this was no exception. As I stood waiting for the shuttle bus that would take me to Terminal 2, I lit a cigarette and switched on my phone. Although Mom and Lisa were travelling without phones, I knew Jacky would have hers, so I figured I would send her a text message to tell her I had arrived. She replied almost immediately: “Can’t find Mom!”

I thought, at first, that it must be a joke, but it soon became apparent that she was serious.

Terminal 2 of Charles De Gaulle airport consists of two long buildings, one on each side of a dual-carriageway road. Each building houses different Gates – A, B and C on one side and D, E and F on the other. A circular road connects the two buildings, crossing over (or under?) the main road at each end.
Pay attention now, because this is where it gets a little tricky.
To get from one Gate to another, one has to exit the building and hop on one of the shuttle buses that spend all day driving the road that circles around the inside of the complex, stopping at the different gates along the way. Of course, not every bus stops at every gate – that would be far too easy.
I think I did two full laps on this road that day in the search for my parent and sibling, leaving a trail of hastily-smoked cigarettes and a very confused Frenchwoman in my wake - she thought I had missed a flight to South Africa and I didn’t have the energy or the linguistic skills to correct her once I had established that their flight had, indeed, landed earlier that morning.

The good news is that just as I had begun to worry about what might have become of them, Jacky phoned from her post at the RER station to say that they had finally arrived from “… somewhere”.

Relief! They were found!
After my final leg on the shuttle bus I arrived at the RER station with three minutes to spare before the 11:30am deadline, and there was my family: Jacky and Mom sporting slightly goofy grins and Lisa looking decidedly grumpy after her first ever long-haul flight, desperate for a cigarette but having had no luck in procuring a flame. Ever mindful of priorities, we found a spot for her to smoke, whereupon her sense of humour began to reappear.

After braving what was possibly the slowest-moving queue in the world to get tickets we finally boarded a train to Paris, after only a minor disagreement about which doors to go through to find the correct platform. It wasn’t really the emotional reunion I had been expecting, but by the time we had settled ourselves and our luggage on the train we were all much happier, bar a few hunger pains.

Our train ride ended some time later at the monolithic Gare du Nord station, where we attempted to follow the “Taxi” signs out of the building. After a few wrong turns and small circles we found ourselves outside in bright sunshine and just around the corner we piled into the first taxi we could find and gave the driver the name and address of our hotel. As it turned out, the hotel was not too far from the station. The drive there took about fifteen minutes. It probably should have taken five. I had no idea it was possible to get lost when you have on-board GPS, but I guess you learn something new every day. Mom got to practise her French on the driver a bit - he said something and she “um-er”-ed a bit in reply but managed to make herself understood, whereupon he proceeded to gabble on at warp-speed in French, delighted that one of his passengers understood what he was saying. Well, sort of.

We had booked rooms at the Hotel Favart, located a few blocks away from the Opera, on the Right Bank in Paris’s 2nd Arrondissement. It is a lovely neighbourhood, especially when compared to the place I’d stayed in the last time I was in Paris, which was directly opposite a bar called “Dirty Dick’s” in the middle of the red light district.
The hotel had an air of slightly faded elegance, with thick plush carpets in the lobby and discreet, warm lighting. Jacky and I shared a twin room on the 4th floor, while Mom and Lisa were on the 3rd. The rooms were spacious and clean and ours had a large en-suite bathroom and a view over the street. Once we had settled in and Mom and Lisa had refreshed themselves sufficiently after their long trip, we went out in search of food. It was long past lunchtime already and I hadn’t even had breakfast. I’d tried, on the flight over, but by the time the air-hostess got to me they had run out of both time and hot breakfasts, so all I had in my stomach by that time was coffee, and a biscuit that Lisa had saved for me from her in-flight meal.
(Isn’t that sweet? My sister knows me well! I, on the other hand, had been so disorganised for this trip that I didn’t even have my regulation emergency-munchies-situation Pringles with me!)

We stepped out of the hotel and turned left onto Boulevard Des Italiens, a long, wide avenue lined with an endless array of restaurants, cafés and brasseries, and tall trees bearing copper-coloured leaves that were already beginning to fall. We wandered along in the chilly, breezy Autumn afternoon, stopping to peruse the menus posted outside until we finally decided on a steakhouse called Hippopotamus, which was recommended in my handy pocket-sized (although not really) guide book. Over cheeseburgers and Cokes we began to catch up on each other’s lives after being so long apart. The last time we had all been together was four years previously, at my wedding. It wasn’t long before we were giggling like schoolgirls. What set us off was talking about how Mom and Lisa managed to get lost in the airport.
Apparently they hadn’t realised they actually had to go out the door to get from one gate to another. Added to this was the fact that Mom had been convinced that they were in a different time-zone, when in fact they weren’t, and by the time they realised their mistake Jacky had already landed, which left them making a mad dash to the RER station to get there before 11:30am in case we left for the hotel without them.
The conversation at the table went something like this:

{Side note: Mom had received a new digital camera three days in advance of her birthday, which was the excuse -sorry, the reason - for this whole trip.}

Lisa: “So what’s new in everyone’s lives? Jacky, you first.”
“Oh not much. You know, London is London…”

“Wait! Lean in a little closer girls so that I can get a photo”

Lisa (looking determinedly at Jacky): “I see. So tell me about work and stuff.”
“Mom, do you know where the flash is? Make sure it’s on.”


Me: “Yowza! I think she found it!”
“Now how do I get to see what it looks like?”

“Press that button over there, I think.”

(attempting to not look harassed): “Okay, and Terri, what about you? How’s your job going?”

“It’s going fine, I just started in a new department.”

“Oh, I see how it works now…”

Lisa: “Really? Doing what?”
“DBA – database administration.”

“Let’s have a look, Ma?”

Mom: “Yes, Lisa, I’m sure I told you about that…”
“Oh, right, and are you still with the bank?”

“Yep, I… ah Ma! I look completely wasted in that photo!”

“Terri, you always look wasted in photos.”


Mom: “Nonsense, I think you all look lovely.”

And so it continued, as it normally does. It is no wonder husbands leave the room when we all get together. Between all the laughing and having three conversations going at once, it’s a marvel we ever get any sense out of it all. But we do, and we’re happy. It’s the way we are.

After stuffing ourselves at lunch, we decided to explore our neighbourhood a little and within a block or two found ourselves standing at an enormous intersection dominated by L’Opera. It dawned on me then that it was the Opera – the setting for “The Phantom of the Opera”. (Yes, I can be a little slow to catch on sometimes.) I was delighted at this discovery, since it is one of my favourite stories and I took careful aim with my camera in an attempt to do the gracious structure justice. As it turned out, I failed dismally because, unbeknownst to me at the time, my camera was set up for Tungsten lighting, not a bright Autumn sky. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

Dodging the traffic, we turned left again and ambled down Rue de la Paix, peering into the many shops and trying to avoid being knocked down by mad Parisian drivers, until we found ourselves in what we realised was the Place Vendome. Needless to say we were too busy ogling the jewellery in the window displays of Cartier and Chanel to pay much attention to the magnificent Vendome column in the centre.
While we were there my personal on-board navigational system kicked in and I suddenly realised exactly where we were. Filled with excitement and purpose, I proceeded to hurry my little posse along down a side street and then left again, all the while urging them to get a move on - no easy feat as we were all so easily distracted by the wares in the beautiful shops. They couldn’t fathom what the rush was and I suppose, to be fair, they had a point. What I wanted to show them wasn’t going anywhere.
But I really wanted them to see this!

At length we arrived at the Place De La Concorde and I stood back and waited for them to see it. They ooh-ed and aah-ed at the beautiful old buildings and the fountain, but looked a little confused, obviously wondering what all the fuss was about. Overhead, huge grey and bright white clouds loomed and a chilly wind threatened rain. Eventually I couldn’t stand it any longer so I pointed it out to them – past the mad traffic and beyond the fountain in the centre of the massive square, breaking the skyline in the distance was The Eiffel Tower. Ah! Suddenly there was much smiling and photographing. Remembering how excited I had been the first time I’d glimpsed it a couple of years back I felt happy, like I had given them a present.

After the photo-shoot was over we strolled into the Jardins Tuileries, down the wide gravel path that runs the length of the gardens and around large shallow pools dominated by fountains. We drank in the sight of the Autumn colours, almost unnaturally bright in the late afternoon sunlight that broke through huge rainclouds in shafts, creating patterns and shapes on the ground as the fallen leaves swirled and played in the crisp wind. When the rain came we stepped inside one of the coffee shops and enjoyed a Café Au Lait.
I had finally learned that when in continental Europe, if one wants a cup of coffee, one should order either a Latté, Americano or Café Au Lait. If one orders coffee, one gets a tiny cup of espresso that will make one’s hair stand on end. Not recommended for amateurs.

When the heavy rain clouds moved on, so did we. In front of us now loomed the Louvre, gracious and beautiful, except for the imposing glass pyramid which guards the entrance. Some might say it is a work of art – juxtaposing the old with the new – but personally I think it is rather ugly, starkly taking something away from the grandeur of the original building.

However, as we stood admiring the architecture of the museum with its adornment of statues and carvings enhanced by the glow of late afternoon sun, I saw something that warmed my heart even more and made me smile. You see, while I appreciated my surroundings, I had been there before, and I spent much of our time in Paris watching my Mom and my sisters enjoying it. And at that moment I saw in Lisa a spark, a rekindling of a passion for art and beauty. When Lisa left school she spent three years studying art - graphic design, to be precise. I remember her love for art and photography from back then and over the years I have been slightly puzzled at the fact that she moved away from this to become a businesswoman, a wife and a mother. Not that these are bad things – not at all. It’s just that if you had asked me back then where Lisa would be in 10 years’ time I would have said she’d be in some sophisticated arty job, rubbing shoulders with the cultural circle. Mind you, I don’t think any of us have turned out how we thought we would.
But I digress.

Standing outside the Louvre in Paris, it was as if her eyes suddenly opened after a long sleep and she remembered. And then she couldn’t get her camera out fast enough. I do believe she would have happily stayed right there all night if we had let her. It was a wonderful thing to see – the rediscovery of a joy long lost in the business of life.

However it was beginning to get late and the air was cooling as rapidly as the sun was disappearing so we decided to call it a day and turned left again, towards where we estimated our hotel to be.
Halfway up Avenue Del L’Opera we happened upon the first souvinir shop. These places are tourist heaven and we emerged with at least one shopping bag each. But shopping is thirsty work, so a block or so later we ducked into a café where we found a spot to stand at the bar and drink a small beer each.
It felt strange to be standing at a bar counter, smoking cigarettes and tipping the ash on the floor, but in this particular establishment it appeared there were no ashtrays and that was the way it was done. My trusty guide book advised that it is cheaper to have your drinks at the bar counter than at a table, so we had decided to test the theory. We were all in good humour and our cheerfulness rubbed off on the barman, who turned out to be quite a friendly chap once we smiled at him.

Here is my personal theory on the service in Paris : If you are a woman travelling with a man, chances are the waitering staff are going to be rude and obnoxious. If you are a group of women travelling together, you will get exactly the same response – unless you smile at them, in which case these bastions of reservedness suddenly become human.

It was almost dark by the time we stepped outside again and we were all still reasonably full from our late lunch, so supper consisted of sandwiches and coffee purchased at a nearby Starbucks and eaten in our hotel room.
Exhausted after their long flight from South Africa and the tiring afternoon of walking, Mom and Lisa elected to retire early. Jacky and I sat quietly in our room and I began writing some of the postcards I’d bought to send to my family in various parts of the world.
I managed to do three before Jacky discovered the mini-bar, whereupon the postcards were abandoned and we concientiously liberated all the miniature Gin bottles and tonic water from the little fridge, and proceeded to yak away until the wee hours of the morning.

We had arranged to meet for breakfast at 8 :30 the next morning in the little dining room off the hotel lobby. Jacky and I arrived at 9, just in time to see Mom and Lisa finishing theirs. If patience involves tapping of feet and much rolling of eyes, then they waited patiently for us to drink our coffee and eat our croissants, unaware that we were, in fact, suffering from the after-effects of too much mini-bar Gin. Lisa couldn’t wait to get back to the Louvre and since we had read somewhere (the trusty guide book strikes again !) that entrance was free on the first Sunday of every month, we agreed that this would be our first port of call.
We had barely wiped the crumbs from our faces and we were out the door, headed in the direction of the river Seine and the Louvre.

It was close enough for us to walk and the streets were quiet at that time of the morning so we were able to enjoy the sights and sounds without worrying about being hit by cars too much. Paris is a beautiful city – certainly, the most beautiful that I have seen. There is no ugliness. All the buildings, even the plain ones, are beautiful, the avenues are wide and gracious, the narrower alleys and roads flanked by tall, elegant office blocks or apartments. Statues, fountains and memorials can be seen from afar down most streets and it is difficult not to be entranced by it all. Being women, of course we couldn’t help but be entranced by something else as well – the shopping. It may not be the least expensive place to shop but it is not surprising that Parisian women are so beautifully dressed. However, it doesn’t stop at clothes or jewellery.
On our way to the Louvre that morning we got ever so slightly sidetracked in yet another souvinir shop, which resulted in us finally reaching our destination only around midday.

I am pleased to report that my guide book was correct – entrance to the museum was free that day. Unfortunately it would appear that a lot of people have read that guide book because we stood in the freezing wind for over an hour in a queue that wound from the aforementioned offensive pyramid, around one side of the massive courtyard, through the archway under the Sully wing which joins the Richelieu and Denon wings, to halfway around the second courtyard. This is easily the length of a football field, and then some.

It was cold, but at least it didn’t rain.

Eventually we made it to the entrance of the pyramid, passed through the security checks and rode the escalator down into the cavernous lobby on the lower ground floor. Armed with a floor plan of the building we wasted no time in deciding that our first goal was to see the Mona Lisa.
It may seem strange that we would need a floor plan of a museum but until you have been there you have no idea how enormous this place is. Four storeys high - one of which is below ground level - it would probably take a week to see everything in it. Hence the free floor plan that is available to visitors in the lobby. The most popular attractions are highlighted on the pamphlet so that the day’s visit can be planned intelligently.

We joined the throngs of people all moving in the general direction of the Denon wing, which houses the great lady. Turning a corner we began to climb a flight of stairs and when I looked up, there she was, rising above the crowds at the top of the stairs, larger than life and impervious to the humdrum existence of modern life, fearless and beautiful.
No, not Mona Lisa - I am referring to a statue known as “Winged Victory of Smothrace”. She is Nike, the goddess of Victory. Carved from stone, she stands tall and strong on what was once the prow of her stony ship.
Of course at the time I didn’t know any of this.
All I knew was that I had found my muse.
She was the most beautiful and inspiring piece of art I had seen and I was drawn to her at the top of the stairs, utterly captivated. Up close, I couldn’t see her properly because of her size so I found a spot off to the side, out of the crush of people, and allowed myself a few moments to gaze and take a photograph or two that I could take with me. After all, one can’t leave one’s muse behind in Paris now, can one?!
And here she is: When I snapped out of my trance-like state it dawned on me that I should probably find my family, who had wandered through to the next room. Once I had caught up to them we took our time admiring the magnificent paintings and detailed ceilings that adorn the rooms leading to our destination at the end of the Denon wing.

The Mona Lisa is just one of those things that simply must be seen during a visit to the Paris. I have now seen it twice. The first time I was not terribly impressed. It is smaller than might be expected, and quite dark. At the time it was also surrounded by a few thousand Japanese tourists. This time the tourists were mostly European and American and the painting was just as small and just as dark as I remembered, and no more impressive.

Perhaps I don’t know enough about art.
Or perhaps it is one of the biggest practical jokes in history.

Nonetheless, we went, we saw, we went on in search of bigger and better things.

Our foray into the magical world of art thus far had built up in us a serious thirst accompanied by minor hunger pains, so it was decided that before continuing on our journey of culture we should find something to eat. Between the floor plan and the signs on the walls (never mind that some of them seemed to contradict each other) we found ourselves once again on the lower ground floor in a place called Café Denon, which is tucked away in the midst of an Egyptian exhibition. After a short wait for a vacant table, during which time I entertained everyone by making what I thought was a subtle comment about raiding the dessert tray opposite, but which was in fact overheard by a very amused waiter, we were led through the restaurant to a table near a window.
The restaurant was lovely with its vaulted stone ceilings and relaxed atmosphere and the service was terrible. For the life of me I could not fathom why, because there appeared to be a good ratio of waiters to tables, but it seemed to take forever before someone came to take our order. When the food arrived it was delicious, if slightly less than I would have liked. And then we decided it was time for coffee.
The trick, of course, was to catch the eye of a waiter so that we could tell him this.
Summoning my best French accent I called “Monsieur!” in a not-so-genteel tone and, ignoring the slightly bemused expression on his face I asked for four cups of coffee – sorry, Café Au Lait. I realised too late that “Monsieur” was in fact not a waiter but the Maitre D’, or manager, or something. Not that I cared all that much. I wanted my coffee.
To his credit, he brought the tray of coffee to us himself, with a waiter in tow to serve and pour – but not before he said to the lad, “But not for this one”, indicating me with a wink and a smile. The young man looked shocked, somewhat like a rabbit caught in headlights, until he realised his superior was joking – obviously not a regular occurrence. A French waiter with a sense of humour; who would have thought?

With our energy levels restored we set out to explore the museum further. Mom and my sisters wanted to examine the Egyptian exhibit while were in the vicinity, but since it contained, among other things, a couple of mummies, I took a time out to sit on a bench and just enjoy the echoing silence of the vault-like room we were in. Dead stuff freaks me out and stuff doesn’t get much deader than mummies.

After that it was off to the part of the museum I had enjoyed most on my previous visit: the halls containing the Greek sculptures, including the magnificent Venus de Milo. Three hours after we had first set foot inside we had covered a lot of ground, including Objects d’Art belonging to one King Louis, and a whole host of other ancient and beautiful things.
By then we had reached a point where our senses were simply overloaded and we could no longer appreciate what we saw so we made our way back to the lobby and tried to leave.

That is correct, I said we tried to leave.

Some moron had chosen that afternoon to try to steal something from the museum, and as a result the exits were sealed and the queue to leave was almost as long as the queue to get in.
After what seemed an eternity to us of milling around with the few hundred other tourists wanting to leave, the staff must have caught the culprit or found the missing object and we managed to escape outside into the fresh air again, where we were drawn back into the Tuileries gardens to rest our weary legs at a table outside one of the café’s.
A waiter was cajoled into taking a photograph of the four of us together while we drank yet another cup of coffee and waited out yet another cloudburst under an umbrella.

If we had had more days to spend in Paris this probably would have been a good time for us to head back to the hotel. Lisa had developed a cold that looked more like the ‘flu and we were all a little tired, but we wanted to see as much as possible while we could, so I consulted my map and decided that we could fit in at least one more sight that day.

Dodging raindrops and traffic we quick-marched along the bank of the river and crossed over a bridge onto the island that houses Notre Dame cathedral. There we joined the endless stream of visitors that flock from all over the world to see the famous landmark.
We stepped inside just as Mass was about to begin. The haunting echo of the choir lent a magical, mystical quality to the already enchanting scene of gilt and candles, huge stained-glass windows lit up by daylight trying to steal in from outside and creating an eerie glow that illuminated the massive stone arches.

After touring the small chapels that line the outer walls of the church, I accompanied Lisa outside for some fresh air. Her sniffles were being disastrously aggravated by the smell of incense.
Mom hung back, clearly appreciating the Mass that was in progress, and we were happy to leave her to enjoy the experience.

After Notre Dame we stopped in at a bar for a cup of coffee and a rest away from the cold in order to fortify ourselves for the walk back to the hotel. According to the little map that had been given to us by the receptionist, it didn’t seem far enough away to justify a taxi. Thus, about an hour later, we found ourselves walking up unfamiliar, dimly-lit roads in darkness and pouring rain, stepping into the shelter of doorways in an attempt to figure out where we were in relation to our hotel, and all the time all of us becoming more agitated because some thought we needed to head left while others swore we needed to turn right. Oh what fun.
Eventually I decided to take control of the situation, telling them in my most authoritative tone to Just Trust Me! In truth, I had a little doubt myself, but one thing I have learnt over the years is that I have an impeccable sense of direction. I decided that this was the time to believe in myself. What a sense of relief when we reached a street I recognised! Okay, so we might have taken the long way home, but in the end we got there and I am quite happy to take credit for that. We were never lost – after all, I always knew we were in Paris.

After another quiet supper of baguettes eaten in our hotel room Lisa took her sniffling, aching body off to bed, while Jacky, Mom and I went off in search of a pub. Ha! Hundreds of restaurants in our neighbourhood and not a pub to be seen, but we were less inclined to walk too far after the day’s exercise, so we went into a café and persuaded the waiter to clear the cutlery off the table, where we shared a bottle of wine. The wine wasn’t great but it was okay, and I enjoyed being able to sit and relax and chat with the gals, with no great need to rush off and do something.
On our return to the hotel Mom headed directly to bed, her lip curling slightly as it always does after a glass of wine, although she will deny this vehemently.
Back in our room, Jacky discovered that our mini-bar had been re-stocked so we decided to have a nightcap.

By the next morning all the Gin was gone again and we both had pounding hangovers. The stale croissant and two-day-old coffee we had for breakfast didn’t help. Mom and Lisa were still none the wiser about our late night foray into miniature booze-land so we stoically joined them in heading off to purchase bus tickets at the Metro station.
The woman who sold them to us was extremely helpful and Mom’s rapidly improving French assisted in getting us directions to where we wanted to go.

If the Metro in Paris is a reliable form of transport, I can unfortunately not say the same for the buses. We waited about forty minutes for the bus to arrive that would take us to Pigalle. Lisa, not being the most patient person in the world at the best of times, was less impressed. Of course with a heavy dose of ‘flu this was also not the best of times, and she was frustrated at having flown halfway across the world to do the whole sightseeing thing only to spend half the day waiting for a bus. Fair point, I suppose, although Jacky and I are well used to waiting for public transport, living as we do in London and Dublin.

By the time we reached Pigalle, however, she was somewhat placated and as we walked uphill through the streets of Montmartre, shopping occasionally in the offbeat stores until we reached Sacre Coeur, we all thoroughly enjoyed our surroundings. There’s a reason they call it retail “therapy”.

We opted to ride the funicular up to the top of the hill on which Sacre Coeur is perched, rather than climbing the steep stairs. The majestic white domes and graceful architecture of this place is unbelievably beautiful. And that’s just on the outside. Inside it is a marvel of art and beauty; plus, it contains a shrine to my namesake.

Once outside again we stopped to enjoy the view. This is the highest ground in Paris and the city lay spread out like a three dimensional map at our feet. There was an aura of peace and relaxation outside the basilica as people hovered around, taking photographs and appreciating the view, and simply resting in this haven. We watched some birds bathing in a puddle, dodging the pigeons. That is, I was dodging the pigeons, which seemed to be out to get me that weekend!

After strolling slowly down the stairs back to reality, we went into a pizzeria for lunch. This tourist stuff sure makes a person hungry! Again, we managed to make friends with the manager. I think he was intrigued by the four of us, although I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps it was the way we all laugh so much when we’re together. Our little family is known for its strange sense of humour. We find something funny in pretty much everything. But I will never know what made him come over and kiss me on the cheek when I leaned over and closed the window behind me. The others found it hysterical, of course, while I was just completely bewildered.

When we’d eaten our fill of pizza we wandered down towards the Moulin Rouge. By night the area is brightly lit with neon signs and red lights. I know this from my previous visit. By day, it is a seedy area populated with pimps and prostitutes, dodgy-looking sex shops, peep shows and establishments of general disrepute. It felt a little odd to be there with my mother. We quickly took our photographs (of the Moulin Rouge, not the prostitutes) and then hopped on a bus into town, past the Opera and back to the Louvre.
From there we did the marathon walk up the Champs Élysées towards the Arc de Triomphe, past the rows of tall trees bedecked with autumn-coloured leaves, which give way to the large, stylish shops and restaurants. We stopped in at a MacCafé for a milky cappuccino near the top of the avenue and again I felt the magic of Paris inspire me.
If I’d been alone I could have sat all day at the open-air table, people watching and writing while the city sped by. But I wasn’t alone and there was more to be seen, so after finally reaching the enormous Arc De Triomphe we caught another bus, which dropped us at the Place du Trocadero.

I was getting all excited again by the time we got off the bus, because I knew just how close we were to the Eiffel Tower and I knew what to expect when we stepped around the side of the building. It seemed the pinnacle of our trip to Paris and now we have it: a photograph of the four of us with the Eiffel Tower in the background.
This is one of the coolest things I own.
A fellow tourist was kind enough to do the favour of taking this picture in exchange for me taking a similar one with her camera, of she and her friend. That’s how things work when you’re a tourist.

We stood for a while trying to absorb the size of the structure and photograph it nicely – once you get up close it is too big to try and capture in a single shot. We had great fun laughing at Jacky, who had her camera lined up for a perfect photo, except for the giant pigeon that landed on the ledge in front of her, completely filling her viewfinder. It was clever enough to stay just out of arm’s reach, too, and completely ignored all our efforts at scaring it away. Eventually she had to simply move and re-set up the whole picture again. She may not have been amused, but the rest of us sure were!

When we had all taken enough photographs, we walked down the steps and across the road and the river Seine and sat on a bench eating Crepes with chocolate, the Eiffel Tower looming overhead. The sun was setting again, casting an orange glow and causing the temperature to plummet. Although we were uncertain of which bus to take, Mom used her now almost fluent French to get us on the right one back to the Louvre, from where we walked the couple of blocks back to our hotel. No mistakes that night!

After resting our weary feet we dressed up and went to a café around the corner and had a good sit-down dinner accompanied by a couple of small carafes of rosé wine; all four of us this time, after we convinced Lisa she could not spend her last night in Paris alone in her hotel room. Nonetheless, she was still feeling really ill so she and Mom left around 10pm, while Jacky and I stayed to settle the bill and have another (couple) of coffees before heading back to collapse into bed ourselves - sans mini-bar Gin this time.

Tuesday was our last day. We checked out after breakfast (I’m pleased to report that the coffee and croissants were both fresh again) and stored our baggage in the small luggage room behind reception. Lisa was happily, if sneezily, ensconced in one of the couches in the lobby, having given up all pretence of good health and succumbed to the cosiness of being wrapped up indoors on a plush couch with a magazine. Mom, Jacky and I decided we had enough time to visit the Musée D’Orsay, where I was especially keen to see the Impressionist collection.

As luck would have it, however, the museum was closed that day due to strikes, so we shopped instead while making our way back up towards L’Opera and then our hotel. It was proper shopping this time – beautiful clothes at reasonable prices. I am now the proud owner of what I call my ‘Paris top’, which I have yet to wear due to lack of functions, but of which I am extremely proud.

We picked up some baguettes along the way and went back to the hotel to eat them before loading our luggage and ourselves into a hotel-arranged shuttle service to the airport. With strikes on we weren’t taking any chances with public transport – as it was, my flight back to Dublin turned out to be delayed by an hour.

And with that, our Paris adventure was over. Despite getting lost a few times, we had a great time with plenty of laughs, and I believe we each found something there too.
Mom found a place to finally use her French language skills.

Lisa found a long-forgotten love of art.

I found my Muse.
And Jacky? Well, Jacky found the mini-bar!


anne said...

Ooh so much to read - I had lots to say, and now I've forgotten it all.
But. I agree on the Mona Lisa. And are you sure the Musée d'Orsay was closed due to a strike? 'Cause normally, Tuesday is the weekly closing day for museums in France...?
Oh and you actually need to come back, because apparently, you haven't seen the Eiffel Tower sparkle. And it's just fantastic.

beadinggalinMS said...

Terri-WOW what an awesome trip!!
That is a beautiful picture of you and your mom and sisters!! :)

If I ever get overseas will you be my tour guide??

Spookie the Warrior said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Spookie the Warrior said...

Tee hee - you four sound like my mom and two sisters and me when we get together - we are also talkative and giggly wherever we go and hubby's tend to leave us alone too whe that happens. What a lovely holiday! It really sounds like you all had loads of fun!

Oh, and that deleted comment was me - sorry.

Terri said...

Anne - We're pretty sure it was strikes, judging by all the signs that were plastered all over the place. On the other hand, we were relying on my Mom for translation, hehe...
And believe me, I will definitely be back again. This year if possible. I'd LOVE to see the Eiffel Tower at night.

Beads - Sure, no problem! If there's anything you need to know, just ask. And if I don't know the answer, I'll just make it up ;-)

Spookie - Glad to know we're not the only nutty family out there!